Thursday, June 7, 2012

Categorizing Fat People - Your Loss or Theirs?


Many people make the terrible mistake of categorizing.  For some reason, everything and everyone must fit into a category.  The problem with categories, however, is that some things and some people will just never fit into them.

Take, for example, childbirth.  Since the dawn of time, women have been giving birth by the millions.  The medical field has therefore created categories laboring women must fit into...categories like false labor, early labor, active labor, transitional labor, and delivery.  One of the categorizing criteria is a specific time span between labor pains.  Unless you fit into the category of "time to head to the hospital" with labor pains spaced a set amount of time apart, then "you are to stay home." If you are able to smile or joke through labor or be pleasant during it, you are put into a category as not really being about to deliver and your presence at the hospital is placed low on the priority list.

I used this as an example because it was really the only personal experience I had had about how wrong people can be when trying to categorize someone and something, prior to finding myself Fat, with Fat being the second situation in my life this became obvious to me.  You see, I didn't fit into the medical categories, and as a result, my husband missed the birth of his firstborn child (a son), the doctor delivering my second (a daughter) nearly missed that actual delivery himself, and I had hospital board members in business suits attending my third delivery (a son).  I will spare you the details.   The point being none of these situations would have been so had I just been "normal" and progressed the way THEY believed I should--you know, like EVERYONE else.


Do people, let alone professionals in any specialty, really believe we are all identical and that each and every single one of us will fit neatly into one of their designated categories?

With weight gain, I have had the displeasure of seeing firsthand just how differently overweight people are viewed in society.  Despite being the exact same person I have always been, I am treated differently.  What is worse, is that I have had to endure well-intentioned comments that are way off base that left me feeling horrible and almost defensive, but I wound up so shocked that I was actually rendered speechless.

I, unlike too many, am fully aware that overweight people are overweight for many different reasons.  Some people are obese due to medical conditions such as Prader-Willi syndrome, medications they take such as prednisone, for psychological reasons, for self-deprecating reasons, or from bad habits they have developed such as meal skipping (the opposite of gorging).  Some have a combination of factors and not just one.  Yet all I hear people say categorizes all overweight and obese people into three categories.....lazy, glutton, and impulsive. 

The impression I have been given is that all overweight and obese people simply have no self-control, that we are all hunched over in a dark corner of our homes with a bucket of food and chocolate drool running from our chins stuffing our faces, and that we are all simply lazy.

We've all heard that employers discount applicants who are obese or overweight, and I have to say that now that I have taken the time to get to know fellow overweight and obese people and their struggles, this "rumor" appears to be true.  I think back to the day when it seemed all I need do is smile and ace an interview and am fully aware that it wouldn't be so today.  Again, I am the exact same high-achiever I have always been.   

People wrongly assume that an overweight person is a poor manager, that they have no ambition, no desire to succeed, etc.   While that may be true for some overweight people, it is not for all.

I personally saw each year that I had gained 5 pounds per year.  At that time, it was "only 5 pounds more."  I made a conscious decision not to fret over it and told myself it was only temporary.  I haven't always been fat, and yet I watch people make that assumption about me too frequently.  Would it be that surprising that I wanted to do so much and actually did it and enjoyed every minute of it that I let the weight creeping on remain low on my priority list?  Would it still surprise you that I am a problem solver and had a future plan to get back into "fighting shape"?  That tending to this issue in my life was not a priority and completely acceptable to me to do later?  I haven't missed a day of work in 12 years.  In fact, I didn't get a moment of maternity leave, took my laptop to the hospital and was working 2 hours after delivering my last child.    

People need to know that one of the other reasons overweight people can be such is because they put themselves last and all else before themselves.  Some are actually workaholics and put their jobs before themselves and feel guilty about tending to themselves until a To-Do list is done.  Some can't sleep until a problem has been solved and they can't leave the office behind at the office.  You would think this would be an asset to any organization.  It definitely doesn't mean that an overweight person should be unemployable.   

Now that I am self-employed while finding myself fat, I can't help but wonder how different an interview would be today when I used to practically ace them with a smile.  I also can't help but wonder how many mistakes employers make as a result of this form of bigotry.  Maybe they inadvertently hire the opposite of what they wanted when they see what they see with only their eyes and wind up with physically fit people who can't wait for 5 p.m., who could care less that a problem they could solve just passed over their desk because it is, after all, not actually their problem, and who calls in sick all 10 allotted sick days when the Fat person never misses a day. 

If you don't take the time to get to know the reason why a Fat person is Fat, then who loses....you or them?